Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Misquoting the Bible: Philippians 4:13

"But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction.
And you yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs. Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account. But I have received everything in full, and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God. And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
" Philippians 4:10-19
As with Jeremiah 29:11, this verse is also frequently misquoted and misapplied by Christians who rip it from its immediate context and attempt to apply it to various situations and circumstances in their life or others. It, likewise, has nothing to do with our personal pursuits and endeavours. It also has nothing to do with skills or abilities, employment, relationships, or anything else like that. When someone we know shares with us their struggles, fears, worries, doubts, or concerns about a particular area of their life and we quote this verse to them as some attempt to comfort, we are again doing so erroneously and incorrectly. We are ripping the verse from its immediate context and performing eisegesis upon it.

Philippians 4:13 is not an absolute statement. It is a restrictive statement, confined to the immediate context. Paul is not using this verse to say we can win our sports games because it is Christ Who strengthens us; he is not using this verse to say we can achieve whatever skill set we desire because it is Christ Who strengthens us; he is not using this verse to say we can perform whatever laborious activity we engage in because it is Christ Who strengthens us. We need to keep this verse in the context of what he said in the preceding verses. Paul uses this verse to state that, by the Lord's help, he can use well both prosperity and adversity. Whatever God called him to or put upon him, in this context—prosperity or adversity, he could do because he was united to Christ and indwelt by the Spirit. If he was put in prison for spreading the Gospel, he could endure it for the sake of Christ because it was Christ strengthening him.
"The secret of living amid life's difficulties is simple: trusting God in such a way that one can say, I can do all things through him who strengthens me. This does not mean God will bless whatever a person does; it must be read within the context of the letter, with its emphasis on obedience to God and service to God and others." —ESV Study Bible, p. 2287.
Once again, Christians should never have favourite Bible verses, unless those verses come from the book of Proverbs. Why? Because far too often they are isolating it to itself at the expense of the immediate context surrounding it that explains its meaning, and then misapplying it to their situation. Christians should have favourite Bible passages, understanding what the passage teaches and applying it correctly.